I appreciated the opportunity to take part in the Lansing Board of Water & Light’s citizen’s panel discussion recently and applaud the LBWL for inviting input from the community. However, 15 minutes of the two-hour session and a three-minute limit will not allow much input from the community at future meetings.

We were told by the LBWL in 2008 that a $1 billion coal plant was the best way to go. Can you imagine where we’d be today if we had followed what the so-called utility experts were telling us to do? Our children’s health and our economic future would have been mortgaged by this “billion dollar boondoggle” as one community leader called the idea. It was the community that thankfully changed the direction.

Sadly, we’re not getting the support we need from the LBWL to make the best decision for our community. The Michigan Public Service Commission has given us some broad goals that we can reach, but broad goals don’t make a strategic plan. We need energy experts to help us know what our realistic options are. We need public health experts to spell out for us the risks of continuing a fossil fuel energy mix. We need economists to help us look at the job picture as we transition to a clean energy future. We also need to be informed that some in our legislature are promoting legislation that will curtail the progress we have already made.

Renewable energy is becoming more and more affordable. We know there are cities and countries that are successfully making the transition to clean energy. I just returned from a trip to Germany where individual and community ownership has been essential to their successful transition to reliable and affordable renewable energy. Wind energy is cheaper than coal and the cost of solar is now on a par with natural gas.

On the other hand, we know that coal and natural gas plants threaten our health and add to climate disruption. These sources of energy need to be eliminated from our energy mix as soon as possible. Additionally, energy efficiency programs hold the strongest potential to save customers money. We also know that each of us, citizens and commercial enterprises, can produce electricity through community solar and wind power generation. We know that thousands of sustainable jobs will be created during the transition to a clean energy future. So there is a lot that we already know.

Our community needs LBWL’s support with services that can move the whole region to a fossil free future. We need a utility company that, rather than just being the sole generator of electricity, provides services and incentives to promote and assist clean energy generation distributed throughout the community. It’s a different role for a utility, but is essential to take leadership on a broad range of energy generation options that will power our region responsibly and profitably.

LBWL can become a leader locally and throughout the region in the transition to clean and renewable energy. We need to insist that this continues to be a community wide effort. Come and participate in the future meetings. This is important to a lot of residents and we need to be at the Hannah Community Center in East Lansing at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, to let the utility know how important clean energy is to a prosperous future for the Lansing area.

(Steve Rall is a resident of Lansing.)

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